Airborne Operations [2-3.7 AC.F] - TAB A



(1) World War II and Prior. In the U.S. Army before and during World War II, airborne organization and operations never achieved a unity at the top level comparable to that in the German Army. By the late thirties the Germans had already reached the first stage in organization for airborne operations with the formation of parachute regiments. In 1939 they achieved the second stage, when three parachute regiments, with additional special troops, were incorporated as the 7th Division of the Air Force. In February 21941 the Germans achieved the final stage when these airborne elements were joined with an air transport fleet in the XI Air Corps.

Meanwhile, serious discussions concerning parachute troops within the U.S. Army rested upon a general assumption that these troops would be employed principally in small detachments for demolition work in enemy rear areas. This notion, however, soon gave way to a concept that parachute troops should be used as assault units to seize and hold airheads for air-landing troops. Actually neither concept ever became the basis for major U.S. Army airborne operations during World War II. As stated in FM 31-30, published in May 1942, this doctrine regarded parachute troops as the "spearhead of a vertical envelopment or the advance guard element of air landing troops or other forces." This concept of airborne warfare envisaged the capture of suitable landing areas by small detachments of parachute troops, who would hold the airhead until relieved by either glider- or airplane-landed reinforcements.

- 1 -

Combat experience, however, soon provided a body of data upon which more detailed statements of doctrine could be based. For example, on the basis of the experience of the 82d Airborne Division in Sicily and Italy, General Ridgway recommended that in the future the airborne division be committed as a whole rather than piecemeal. Such recommendations led to considerable debate in 1943, as to the tactical soundness of airborne divisions. At that time General Eisenhower argued against the airborne division, while Maj. Gen. J. M. Swing and others of the Airborne Command argued on behalf of the tactical validity of the airborne divisions in co-ordination with the major ground effort.

From this debate and from early experience emerged a new statement of airborne doctrine in Training Circular No. 113, published 9 October 1943, which was to become the basis of the U.S. Army's employment of airborne forces in World War II. Airborne and troop carrier units were to be theater of operations forces, under the direct control of the theater commander, until landed in the ground combat area, after which control would pass to the officer in command of that area. Airborne forces, normally parachute and glider-borne, were to be specially organized, trained, and equipped to utilize air transportation for entry into combat. Ordinarily such troops were to be employed as a part of a combined effort, and their operations usually would be performed in close co-ordination with other military or naval forces.

Airborne troops were not to be employed on missions that could be more expeditiously and economically performed by other forces. A major factor in considering the employment of airborne troops was the

- 2 -

geographical inaccessibility of the objective to ground forces. Airborne troops were not to be employed unless they could be supported by other ground or naval forces within approximately three days, or unless they could be withdrawn soon after their mission had been accomplished. No fire support could be expected, except from tactical aviation, until contact was made with ground forces. Consequently air superiority would be a fundamental prerequisite for successful airborne operations.

Actual operations during the war generally followed this doctrine, and airborne commanders considered it basically sound. Nevertheless, practice frequently varied from doctrine, and additional experience later in the war eventually suggested modifications.

In any case, by late 1944 most doubts concerning the importance of airborne divisions in tactical operations had been dispelled by the campaigns in Normandy and the Netherlands. Now the general assumption was that the airborne should continue to play a major role not only in Europe but in the Pacific and China-Burma as well.

Although not included in TC 113, the concept of use of airborne troops to seize strategic objectives remained in the background of airborne thought during World War II on to the present. At the time of the Normandy invasion, General Arnold and Marshall urged consideration of strategic employment of airborne forces, but General Eisenhower and his staff continued to think only in terms of tactical employment of airborne troops directly behind enemy lines.

(2) Structure of Airborne Divisions in World War II. American

- 3 -

airborne division structuring had been originally based upon the doctrine of using parachute troops only as an "arrowhead' to prepare the way for glider- or airplane landings, hence the original divisional organization called for one parachute regiment to two glider regiments, as opposed to the British structure of two parachute brigades to one glider brigade.

The British decision to organized their airborne divisions on the basis of two parachute to one glider regiment was based upon necessity rather than upon long-range plans. At the time, AFG had no German TO which showed parachute and glider troops combined in one division. Instead the Germans organized special task forces for each operation; taking parachute troops from the air force and glider troops from the ground forces and tailoring in proportions required by the nature of the particular mission. The AFG G-3 training section recommended therefore that the army emphasize the principle or flexibility in drawing up its airborne organization, sot hat the ratio of parachute to glider troops might be varied to meet specific requirements.

In practice, no American division ever went into combat on the one-to-two basis. The change in the ratio of parachute to glider units in the 82d Airborne Division when it went overseas was, however, due as much to the need for conserving shipping space as to any change in the original (General McNair's) concept.

The advantage of parachute troops over gliders in getting the maximum number of men on the ground in a minimum of time, as well as the smaller number of aircraft and the shorter troop carrier columns needed

- 4 -

for parachute troops, had impressed airborne planners. Consequently, for both the Normandy and Holland operations the 82d and the 101st Airborne Divisions had a ratio of three parachute regiments to one glider, with an aggregate division strength of 12,979 officers and men. Recommendations for permanent reorganizations along these lines were made after each operation, but the War Department did not authorize a permanent change for the divisions in the European Theater until December 1944. Then it adopted a structure of two parachute regiments to one glider regiment. The divisions in Europe were finally reorganized in the spring of 1945.

In the Pacific area, the 11th Airborne Division recommended a different approach. This was to train some of the glider troops as parachutists and to organize dual-capable, paraglider units. The division also urged that in the postwar period all divisional personnel be trained in both parachuting and in gliders.

Yet the days of the glider were numbered, for American experience with glider troops in World War II had proven so disappointing that Army Ground Forces concluded that in the postwar Army gliders should be used only for the transportation of cargo. This represented an important change from the Army's earlier concept that the greater portion of an airborne division should be glider-borne.

(3) Post-World War II and Korea. The first postwar restatement of airborne doctrine appeared in 1946 in FM 71-30, Employment of Airborne Forces, which, however, made few changes in the doctrine contained in TC 113. The same definitions of primary and secondary missions for

- 5 -

troop carriers were there, and the missions given airborne troops remained essentially the same. About the only difference was the enumeration of three additional uses for airborne forces. These were to counter enemy airborne attacks by landing close to, or on top of, enemy airborne forces;* to land following


* This tactic had been earlier developed by the Germans and had been used, albeit unwittingly, by the British in Sicily.


closely the action of combat aviation and attack the rear of an enemy front line before it could recover; and to fill, or strengthen, gaps in positions which ground troops would find difficult to reach. The general assumption remained, however, that airborne forces were not to be employed independently but would be used in co-ordination with other ground, air, and sea forces. Yet in the period immediately prior to the Korean War, much of the thinking governing the employment of the U.S. Army's two remaining airborne divisions seemed to be pointed toward the strategic concept of total movement by air which Generals Marshall and Arnold had advanced during World War II.

By the time the Korean war began, the glider regiment had disappeared completely from the airborne division's TO&E. From 1950 to 1955 the airborne division structure and concept remained virtually unchanged, except for slight variations in over-all strength figures, varying from a high of 17,120 in 1953 to a low of 16,941 in 1954.*

- 6 -


* See applicable TO&E's, 51 and 57 series.


Combat experience in Korea and the advent of tactical nuclear weapons demonstrated a need to rethink many aspects of Army organization and operations, not only for the regular combat divisions, but for the airborne units whose performance there had not fulfilled the promises of a decade before. From this rethinking process emerged two developments: one, the Pentomic reorganization, which was first applied to the reactivated 101st Airborne Division; and, two, the air assault/air mobile concept, the latter seen not as a replacement of, but a supplement to, the airborne division.

The first of these developments resulted eventually in a reorganization of the airborne division from three airborne infantry regiments to five airborne infantry battle groups. Over-all divisional strength was also considerably reduced, from approximately 17,000 to 11,486 officers and men.*


* For the applicable TO&E's 57C, 20 Dec 55; 57T ROTAD, 10 Aug 56, 57D, 31 Jul 58.


As far as doctrinal modifications were concerned, the new airborne division sought, among other things, to develop airborne tactics adapted to the atomic battlefield. These involved use of parachutists to exploit the aftermath of an atomic strike by swift occupation of a devastated area before the enemy could recover. This was essentially

- 7 -

the doctrine of TC 113 updated to the requirements of nuclear warfare.

(4) The ROAD Division Time Frame. The next great change came in 1963 with the adoption of the ROAD organization, designed to give the army a limited warfare as well as nuclear capability. This time the airborne division returned to a more traditional configuration of three airborne brigades. (The British had employed the brigade in the wartime airborne divisions). Overall strength of the ROAD airborne division base (less the maneuver battalions) was to be 5,946 officers and men, including three brigade bases of 1,752 each. Airborne infantry battalions, each with a strength of 828 officers and men, were to be assigned to each brigade in varying numbers, depending upon the mission and the situation.*


* See applicable TO&E's, 15 Aug 63.


Meanwhile, the second development to emerge from the Korean War was the possibility of using air transportation, not in addition to, but in lieu of , organic round vehicles for movement of combat units to and from the battle area. Thus was revived an earlier concept of total movement by air, with the additional aspect that, unlike the airborne division, such a unit would be able to strike and withdraw, if necessary, entirely by air.

Early in 1962, at the request of Secretary of Defense McNamara, the Army appointed a board, chaired by Maj. Gen. Hamilton Howze, to undertake an extensive series of studies, war games, and field tests

- 8 -

toward the improvement of tactical mobility. The Howze Board assumed air mobility to be the capability of a unit to deploy in battle, fight, and sustain itself, using air vehicles under the control of the ground force commander. This board further determined that increased air mobility would offer the battlefield commander vast gains in his ability to locate, surprise, and fight the enemy, to bypass obstacles and strongpoints, and to concentrate force quickly at the point of decision with a maximum of surprise and a minimum of casualties.

Three new type units formed the basis of the board's organizational recommendations. These units were the air assault division, the air cavalry combat brigade, and the air transport (helicopter) brigade; these to be added to the Army's force structure at the end of a phased program.

The Army established a concept team in Vietnam to see how well the Board's findings applied to the counterinsurgency operations there. At the same time, air mobile test units were organized. The first of these, the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, was activated in February 1963. This division derived its mission from the Howze Board's recommendations i.e., to test the air assault concept and to train an air assault unit to participate in tests by the Combat Developments and the STRIKE commands. The Department of the Army directive of 7 January 1963 called for a three-phased program of build-up and testing two key air mobility units, an air assault division, and an air transport brigade.

The air assault division was organized along the ROAD principle with three brigades, but with only three battalions of infantry, for a

- 9 -

total personnel strength of approximately 11,000. For testing exercises the division was expected to borrow additional battalions for attachment to its brigades. The 10th Air Transport Brigade was organized to support the division.

After two years of experimentation, the Army decided to form, beginning 1 July 1965, its first regular airmobile division, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), with a personnel strength of 15,787 and with 434 aircraft, most of which will be helicopters. One-third of the division's combat elements will be moved simultaneously in the division's organic aircraft, while the remainder can be moved either by shuttle or by supporting Army of Air Force aircraft. One of the division's three brigades will be capable of parachute operations and the other two will be air-landed infantry. A total of eight maneuver battalions will normally be available for attachment to the brigades as required.

This development, in a sense, seems to complete the circle, for the airborne concept has returned essentially to its original point under General McNair. The ratio of one parachute to two air-landed units that had characterized the first airborne divisions in his day is now found in the new airmobile division. Instead of the gliders with their many limitations, this new division will have a capability (although this is not necessarily the present doctrine) to air-land two brigades of infantry in airheads which have previously been secured by the parachute brigade; essentially the doctrine of FM 31-50 in 1942. The innovation, and it is an important one, is that the new air vehicles

- 10 -

which will air-land the troops will also be capable of picking them up, if a withdrawal is necessary (as, for example, in "Eagle" operations in Vietnam), or of leapfrogging them over a retreating enemy. The airmobile concept and its embodiment in the new division seem to promise a fruitful marriage between the airborne and the air-landing traditions.

- 11 -